Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lost Building of the Week-- May 2nd

Park Theater

701 North Broad Street

Look at that shit. Pic from the PAB.
                    This city has so many lost theaters, its a wonder why we ever build new ones. Here's yet another one for the list...a perfectly good theater that got chewed up and spit out by major alterations to the point of becoming a useless pile of trash when it was demolished. The victim of the mid-20th Century shittyness of its neighborhood, this would be a great structure to have around today.
                   This last Monday, I wrote about the Northwestern National Bank building, which was across the street from this thing. The Park Theater was yet another accoutrement added to the Gilded Age Town Square that was the convergence of Broad, Fairmount, and Ridge Avenues.
                   As stated in the Northwestern Bank article, this Gilded Age Town Square was created to establish a separate rich neighborhood from the trustafarian-ass old money millionaires by Rittenhouse Square. The newly-rich-ass self-made motherfuckers were rejected by the shiftless inherited-wealth types, and wanted a community with its own cultural and institutional resources. One of the first resources created was this, the Park Theater.
                  In 1886, the great Gilded Age triple-corner did not yet boast the Lorraine Hotel or the American Trust Loan and Guaranteed Investment Company. The first major piece of architecture to hit the corner would have to be magnificent enough to help spur the growth of this burgeoning 'hood. John Bailey McElfatrick, a great architect that designed some of the nicest theaters in the country, was called in to design a theater that would kick the Academy of Music's ass and crush the Musical Fund Hall's balls.
                 McElfatrick didn't disappoint. He designed a white brick-facaded Megafortress of Theatrical Mushmeat. It had a cone-shaped tower on one side and a pyramid-shaped tower on the other... sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Completed in 1887, it held over 1,600 seats and made the northeast corner of Broad and Fairmount shine like a motherfucker. A few years later, the American Trust building would go up, and then Willis G. Hale's Lorraine Hotel a few years after that. Elfatrick has another connection to Willis Hale... he designed the Garrick Theater, which was built to appear as an addition to the Hale Building and had a facade, designed by Hale, that matched it.
                The theater's awesomeness wouldn't last very long. In 1908, the Metropolitan Opera House a couple of blocks to the north was built, making the Park Theater seem like a shitbag puppet show hut, despite additions and alterations made in 1898, 1901, and 1904. In 1918, John Wanamaker purchased the building and donated it to the Salvation Army. It became the Salvation Army's headquarters and was the home of the organization's Anti-Suicide Club. They named the building Evangeline Hall. I prefer Evangeline Lilly.
                By the 1950's, the area had become absolute shit. The Salvation Army was needed in this area more than ever and the old theater building they were using was falling apart. In 1968, the old Park Theater was unceremoniously knocked the fuck down in favor of a newer, sleeker Salvation Army headquarters that looks about as ugly as that time period's architecture gets.
Yeah, this is so much better. Pic from Temple's Philadelphia Neighborhoods.
                  J.B. McElfatrick designed at least 3 other Philadelphia theaters and only one still stands, but its so ridiculously altered that you'd never know it-- its that MJM Trading Inc. "Food Distributor" at 10th and Callowhill. As stated above, this city has a talent for losing theater awesome-looking theater buildings, and we'll probably lose a few more in the next couple of decades. What a fucking shame.

1907 fake colored view. Pic from the PAB.

1 comment:

  1. ...

    The 1950s were shitty in every possible way.